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Senator Tom Brewer
In 1975, the “Open Meetings Act” was created by the Nebraska Legislature with LB 325. The intent of the Legislature was clear: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and may not be conducted in secret. Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the public in order that citizens may exercise their democratic privilege of attending and speaking at meetings of public bodies, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution of Nebraska…”
Much has changed in the last forty-five years since this law was passed. The Open Meetings Act has been amended a dozen times. These changes come through the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. I currently serve as chairman of the Committee, so it is my job to be concerned with how the Open Meetings Act is working.
In 1975, the internet, video teleconferencing, and things like YouTube were all nothing but science fiction that you saw on The Jetsons. Now they are an everyday reality. I think government should take advantage of these advances in technology. A wise man once said the law should be stable, but it should never stand still. Last year, part of our committee priority bill, LB 212, included a bill that I introduced to give some local bodies more opportunities to use teleconferencing.
Under the law today, public bodies (like a county board) must keep minutes of the meeting. The law says that, “…each public body shall keep minutes of all meetings showing the time, place, members present and absent, and the substance of all matters discussed.”
The “substance” the law requires is sometimes a judgement call. Things discussed in the meeting may or may not be fully chronicled in the minutes. A number of my constituents often complain that the substance of all the matters discussed is often left out of the minutes of a county board meeting they regularly attend.
Were all these meetings video recorded and then archived on a publically accessible website, there would be no question what was discussed. This video record, combined with the minutes, would more fully memorialize the meeting than just the minutes alone. It could stand for itself.
It might ruffle some feathers with a few of my colleagues, but it is not just local units of government subject to the Open Meetings Act. We should consider how it should apply to the Legislature. Both committee hearings and debate on the floor should also be memorialized in a publicly-available video archive. The written transcript would still remain the official record.
Had the Chairman of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee had the technological wonders we have today, I am confident requiring a publically accessible video archive of meetings subject to the Open Meetings Act would have been part of the original bill back in 1975. I would argue that our state adopted the principles to create this video archive transparency for government proceedings. The technology we needed to achieve this intent has finally caught up.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions, or concerns. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1101, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at (402) 471-2628.